HIA compensation: Abuse victims 'can do business' with NI secretary

By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI Political Reporter

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image captionCampaigners have been calling for HIA compensation to be implemented since early 2017

Victims of historical institutional abuse have said they believe they "can do business" with the new Northern Ireland secretary of state.

They were speaking after their first meeting with Julian Smith since he took over from Karen Bradley last month.

Mr Smith said he had a "good" meeting with victims and survivors and that he hoped to make progress on the matter as soon as possible.

He also committed to meeting the group on a monthly basis.

For two years, the HIA victims have been calling for the government to push legislation through parliament that would provide compensation to them.

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) studied allegations of abuse in 22 homes and other residential institutions between 1922 and 1995.

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image captionJulian Smith met a number of victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse on Friday

On Friday morning, Mr Smith met a number of victims and survivors to discuss the issue.

The government has, so far, committed to taking legislation through parliament by the end of the year if devolution at Stormont is not restored.

But after meeting Mr Smith at Stormont House, HIA victims said he had told them he wanted to find a "slot" in the parliamentary timetable to bring it through sooner.

They said their meeting with him was "positive" and that he seemed more committed to their needs than previous NI secretaries.

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image captionIn May, Karen Bradley said she could not take the legislation through Westminster

In May, there were calls for his predecessor Karen Bradley to resign after she said she could not, at that point, take the legislation through Westminster.

Jon McCourt of Survivors North West said Mr Smith had also committed to another meeting with victims next month, alongside the political parties.

'Change in body language'

A second group of HIA victims and survivors met Mr Smith on Friday afternoon.

They described it as "one of the best meetings ever" with a secretary of state.

Margaret McGuckin of the group, Savia, told BBC News NI that she had sensed a change in body language and a willingness from Mr Smith to engage.

She also said she believed victims are now closer than ever to ending their fight for redress, and that she believed Mr Smith would see it through Westminster.

However, she added that he told victims he could not commit to definitely bringing the issue through Parliament in September, but is still looking for a gap in the parliamentary timetable to bring it through.

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